Wednesday, April 22, 2009

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Counting to be Pure

by Rabbi Nati at Mystical Paths

Sefiras HaOmer is synonymous with purification. When we are truly ready to purify ourselves, we discover that it isn't a speedy process. Only through gradual progression will we attain our goal. And to be fully purified, we must wait until after the sefirah, after we've counted again and again. In the meantime, we have to count one day at a time; slowly building up purity until we are able to overcome all the undesirable and impure aspects of our lives.

On the 16th day of Nissan, the Omer Sacrifice 'a Barley offering' was brought. Using barley, which serves as feed for animals, would seem to indicate the low nature of this offering. But, because animals lack the power of speech, this makes barley a most appropriate choice. This is because the Omer is brought to rectify and endow the power of speech, elevating from the lower level of the animal to the more purified level of man. And this is its connection to the sefirah.

During the Sefirah we try to rectify ourselves. Quintessentially, Teshuvah is our accepting that everything which happens is from Hashem. When one is embarrassed before Hashem, he can be likened to an animal without the power of speech. As a result of the embarrassment he feels for having gone against Hashem's will and transgressed, he cannot lift up his head or raise his voice. Thus, a major step in repentance and returning to Hashem is remaining silent as we hear and feel ourselves being embarrassed. Teshuvah means that we longer rush to counter the insult with rationalizations, excuses, or just plain arrogance. By truly accepting that everything is from Hashem, then even when we know that the person ridiculing or chastising us is no better that we are, we say nothing. We understand that he is no more than Hashem's messenger, and we remain silent and embarrassed before the One who sent him.

This is the significance of the elevation, Tenuphah, of the Omer. TeNUPhaH can be read TeNU-Peh 'give mouth'. This implies that a person who counts the Sefirat Ha'Omer, thereby rectifying his speech, raises himself from the level of animal to that of man. He becomes a complete person. Man is called a 'Ma'daber' one who speaks; as animals are called b'hehmot.

Seven weeks later on Shavuot, the sacrifice which was brought consisted of wheat. Unlike the lowliness of barely, wheat is a "human" gain. Yet, wheat also carries an aspect of being silent, for there are, in fact two levels of silence. The first level, the animal level, is someone who is so embarrassed by his sins that he can't speak. He finds himself speechless because he recognizes his guilt. But then he repents. He acquires speech, as in, "take with you words and return to Hashem"(Hoshea 14:3). And through his returning and coming closer to Hashem, he can achieve the second level of silence: The gate of wisdom(Avot 3:17). This higher silence corresponds to the divine Emanation, Sephirah, of Keter; itself an aspect of Shavuot.

On Shavuot, after 49 days of counting 'after 49 gates of repentence and Tehillim reciting' the higher level of silence is finally attained. Even so, it must be remembered that all this begins with PeSaCh' with Peh SaCH, a talking mouth. For the only path to these upper levels is through Tefillah, the pure speech of calling out to Hashem (Likutey Halakhot, Simanei Behemah v'Chayah T'horah 4).

Keep counting, you can do it! Blessings, Reb Nati.

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